Fall’s Arrival

Friday, September 26, fall arrived in the Texas Panhandle, at least as far as I’m concerned. The days have been growing shorter, and the days cooler, after a last gasp of 100+ weather during the first week of September. The mornings dipped down into the 50s and the afternoon highs remained in the low 80s, unless a storm line plunged things back into the 60s, as happened this past Wednesday. But the air still felt like summer.

Friday morning the clouds cleared, leaving Orion, Taurus, and the Seven Sisters glittering down out of hard, bare skies. The air carried a new edge to it, a new chill that made me wish I’d worn long sleeves, even after I walked two miles. I could hear crab apples thumping onto the neighbor’s roof when I moved his newspapers, a sure sign of autumn, along with the leaves plummeting down outside my office window. Plane tree (sweet gum) leaves do not flutter gently to the sward, no; these big platters of foliage plunge, dropping straight down into the grass.

The sunrise light caught other trees, revealing the changing colors. Thursday night one of the weather guys showed pictures from Colorado, where leaf-peeping season is well underway. Down here it takes longer, but already the Bradford pears and others are starting to turn. The hawthorn trees sport enormous bunches of orangy-red berries, and the birds are swarming them, with predictable results for any car left parked nearby. Leaves are beginning to crunch and skitter, chased across the pavement and lawns by the south wind. The oaks are turning, although it will be a while before the cottonwoods reveal their brilliant gold. The black crescents of locust seed pods cover yards, and someone on the next block has given up, perhaps waiting for the weekend to tackle the large, black-brown mound dominating a corner of his yard.

The yards and roses have reigned a bit of life. They did well this summer because of the (comparative) coolness and damp. Now they are lush, the roses sending out new red shoots and even blooming. The cool-weather yards have returned to life, much to the delight of yard-guys and the despair of home owners.

Even at noon, the air felt cool. It held a different quality, ignoring the official thermometer in order to feel like fall. By four PM the wind regained a bit of the dawn’s chill. The cicadas sang, but with muted voices, as if anticipating the end of their season of song. Several monarch butterflies drifted past, part of the annual round. A downy woodpecker appeared on the old locust tree by the kitchen window, greeted with seriously mixed emotions. (The tree appears to be dying. It is the biggest one on the block, and removing it will require a plan of battle rivaling the complexity of the Allies plans at D-Day.) New-fallen leaves danced, scraping and whirling around passing vehicles. More will fall in the coming weeks, blanketing yards and churning into dust under car tires.

The weathermen all cautioned that those going to the Friday night games should take jackets. It is M&M and hot chocolate weather according to Channel 10, where the senior man is a connoisseur of stadium food. His assistant seems delighted that the pumpkin patch will be opening next weekend, for those inclined to carve. One network is taking entries into the “First Freeze” contest, while another warns it will start accepting entires in the “First Inch of Snow” game after October 1. The air smells cool and dry, and the cicadas fall silent by seven-thirty, while the crickets strike a frenzy of chirps as if to ward off the change of seasons.

Soon more butterflies and birds will pass through, heading south. If the ten-day forecast holds true, I expect to see ducks paddling south through the skies next Friday, chased by a strong cold front. Skeins of geese herald November, unless a Canadian arctic front drives them down earlier.

This is the wine of the year, the sweetest days. Cool and crisp, fall is a heady season, harvest and hunting, the best flying weather of all. The winter wheat looks good, the cotton’s fair to middling and the corn ready to pick. Acorns patter down on the unsuspecting, berries glow on hawthorns, hollys, and Pyracantha, and the winter stars glitter down from the pre-dawn sky. Ah, autumn.